The Chinese coast guard used water cannon to block two Filipino supply boats that were heading to Ayungin Shoal in the disputed South China Sea, the Philippines foreign ministry has said.
“The acts of the Chinese Coast Guard vessels are illegal. China has no law enforcement rights in and around these areas. They must take heed and back off,” foreign affairs secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr said on Thursday.
He added that no one was injured in the incident but the boats had to abort their mission to provide food supplies to Filipino forces occupying another shoal.
Ayungin Shoal is part of the Kalayaan Island Group, which is an integral part of the Philippines, as well as the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone and continental shelf, Mr Locsin said, adding that the Philippines “has sovereignty, sovereign rights, and jurisdiction” over the area.
Kalayaan is located in the west of Palawan and is the Philippines’ last frontier.
Mr Locsin said that such incidents threaten “the special relationship” between the Philippines and China that presidents Rodrigo Duterte and Xi Jinping “have worked hard to nurture”.
The Philippines foreign ministry said that it will continue to provide supplies to troops in the Ayungin Shoal. “We do not ask permission to do what we need to do in our territory,” Mr Locsin said.
Mr Locsin added that he spoke to the Chinese ambassador in the Philippines, Huang Xilian, and to the Chinese foreign affairs ministry in Beijing to register his protest. He added that he reminded them that a public vessel is covered by the Philippines-US Mutual Defense Treaty.
US secretary of state Antony Blinken had warned China earlier this year that any attack on the Philippines in the disputed area would draw a response under a mutual defence treaty.
“Nowhere is the rules-based maritime order under greater threat than in the South China Sea,” Mr Blinken had said, adding that China continued “to coerce and intimidate Southeast Asian coastal states, threatening freedom of navigation in this critical global throughway”.
The latest incident adds to the tension and territorial disputes in the South China Sea, which is claimed by several countries. China claims 90 per cent of the potentially energy-rich region, but Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also lay claim to parts of it, through which about $3 trillion (£2.4 trillion) of trade passes each year.
China has transformed seven disputed shoals into missile-protected island bases to cement its claims, ratcheting up tensions and alarming rival claimants and western governments led by the US.
In 2016, China rejected a ruling by an international tribunal over the disputed sea. The judgement was overwhelmingly in favour of claims by the Philippines and other claimants. It had declared large areas of the South China Sea to be neutral international waters or exclusive economic zones of other countries.
Though the ruling was expected to build global pressure on China to scale back its military presence in the area, the Chinese president had said that China’s “territorial sovereignty and marine rights in the seas” would not be affected.
China had said that its ministry of foreign affairs “solemnly declares that the award is null and void and has no binding force”. It added: “China neither accepts nor recognises it.”